Publishing Consultant And PublisHer Board Member Emma House Interviews Bookwomen Around The World.
Linda Tan Lingard is the founder and publisher of Integra Creative Media Sdn Bhd (ICM), a children’s book publisher based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The company’s 10-year–old imprint, Oyez!Books, is one of the country’s leading picture book publishers. Linda’s publishing and communications career spans 30 years, with roles in editorial, marketing, and production. It was her interest in education, art and licensing that drove her to found the YGL Management licensing agency in 2009 and the Museum of Picture Book Art, Malaysia, in 2021.
What attracted you to publishing and how did you get started?
I loved art and reading as a child, and by the time I was in my teens I decided I would be an editor. I majored in economics and statistics at university, which I also enjoyed. For me, publishing was all about organising information. After my graduation I joined a printing factory to learn about book production. I moved on to an editorial position and found that I was not very good at it so I moved on to various positions but always in the communications industry. I ended up working across public relations in magazines and journals, primarily in the business and technology fields.
You are one of the founders of ICM. How did this come about?
Death, and especially of one close to you, has a way of focusing our minds, and that’s what happened to me when my husband passed away. I had my own small publishing business focusing on coffee table books before I married, and I worked and later did freelance public relations work during my marriage. When my husband died, I decided to go back to the workforce, as I wasn’t sure what else to do. After about three years, I decided it was now or never, and I set up a used book store and later ICM for children’s publishing. Other partners came in, and the firm was incorporated in 2015.
Can you tell us about your company and the Malaysian picture book market?
After a few years in science and technical publishing, in the production area, I started thinking about publishing – as in creating books. I wanted to publish children’s books, as books had a great influence on me as a child and the reading habit never left me. Someone told me I must visit the Bologna Book Fair, so I did. I was very impressed, and realised I could fill a gap and opportunity in Malaysia for beautiful picture books.
The market for children’s books in Malaysia is focused on educational books. Malaysia also imports a lot of children’s books from the UK and US. There is growing awareness and demand for locally authored picture books, but they are not generally suitable for the mass market and are therefore generally avoided by the big publishing houses. This has led to the creation of small publishers who may start their own companies focusing on themes such as the environment.
For a small company like ICM, publishing under the imprint Oyez!Books, our role is wider, as we must work harder to educate consumers on the value of picture books and on how to use them.
You are president of the Children’s Picture Book Association and on the executive committee member of the Malaysia Book Publishers Association. How gender balanced are these organisations, and what is the situation like for female leaders in Malaysian publishing?
The Children’s Picture Book Association is still new, and was set up after a few enthusiastic discussions with a friend. There are more female than male members. The Malaysia Book Publishers Association has never had a female president, but then most heads of publishing companies are men.
I am not sure that gender balance in leadership positions is especially a priority in the publishing industry here. There are of course women leaders in publishing who have set up their own publishing firms or who head units within large publishing firms. Or the firm started from a family business. Within the publishing industry (not including the press/print media, on which I cannot comment) there are only two publicly listed companies, so the industry comprises many small publishing houses. The issue of gender balance may not arise in the same way as in larger companies in the West.
You also wear a few other hats leading the Yusof Cajah Lingard Lit Agency and the Museum of Picture Book Art. Tell us more about them.
The agency (now called YGL Management) was first started as I knew the perils of publishing, but I found that it was really tough, as local publishers did not use agents at that time and it was difficult for us to sell overseas, being new. Now the agency primarily represents the books published by Oyez!Books and selected titles from others. I would really like to grow this, but it requires the right partners.
The Museum of Picture Book Art was inspired by the Carle Museum. It is a big dream which is still small and is a retail outlet selling Malaysian picture books with some selected international titles. Through the museum we conduct a variety of workshops and hold exhibitions throughout the year. Currently we are holding our first, and probably Malaysia’s first, picture book festival from 18 June to 17 July 2022. We hope this can be done every year, but most likely for a reduced time period.
As a female leader in publishing in Malaysia, have you had to overcome any obstacles, especially related to gender?
All women face obstacles related to gender at work, especially I believe the immediate perception that a man will be more capable. Just being a man gives him that advantage. Running my own business, I’ve had to be practical, so I may ask a male colleague to act where necessary, even though I realise that it is probably avoiding the issue.
What advice would you give to women looking to progress their careers in the publishing sector?
Network widely and take part in projects or associations, because you’ve got to start somewhere and learn the ropes.
What do you think the future holds for children reading, and how can publishers play a role in sustaining and building readers of the future?
In the far far future, I think we will all be using electronic media, and our consumption of knowledge, information and reading for pleasure/entertainment will be very different. But in the not-so-distant future, I believe the reading habit starts young at home or school. Current situations show that a combination of media such as movies and books does not reduce reading but may enhance it, with movies introducing books that are naturally more multi-layered and therefore more pleasurable. This means publishers will have to adopt new channels to engage young readers.
At ICM you have signed the Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact. What initiatives are you taking to contribute to the SDGs and a carbon net zero goal?
We aim to gradually move towards FSC paper, and in our packaging we are careful to reduce the use of plastic. And of course in educating through our books. With the children’s picture book association, we have also set up an SDG Book Club. We held an exhibition last year and had activities for children on the SDG. This will be an annual programme. We expect these will generate more information, discussions, and interest around the SDGs.
This interview was first published by BookBrunch.co.uk and is reproduced here with kind permission.